by Monica A. Ross, LPC
There was something else I found, as I combed through all of these books and articles and Youtube clips of conferences on resilience. What else was everyone saying about resilience and how to achieve it?
Another thing that came up was this idea that a sense of personal agency or autonomy was a necessity in achieving resilience. Personal agency is an important thing to keep in mind and to strive to achieve when feeling beat down because it gives an individual the power to exert influence on his environment.
Agency (from Mirriam Webster): the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power : operation
Just add the personal to it…personal agency…so we’re talking about personal power or empowerment.
Autonomy (from Mirriam Webster):
1 : the quality or state of being self-governing; especially: the right of self-government
2 : self-directing freedom and especially moral independence personal autonomy
3 : a self-governing state
To become resilient and to rise above, it takes a certain measure of personal agency or empowerment because for the marginalized, power has in some sense been taken away. It also takes a certain measure of autonomy because as Reality Therapy and Choice Theory from William Glasser tells us freedom is a basic need in life. Freedom gives us the power to choose and the ability to be independent or autonomous.
The other 5 basic needs Choice Theory lays out are power, love and belonging, freedom, fun, and survival. Power--there's the personal agency again. It is not these basic needs that are driving us towards action, more our wants. And wants are very strong motivators for action, but they do not automatically give us the ability to control outcomes.
We can control what we can control. In other words, we can control what is within our circle of influence—utilizing both personal agency and autonomy along with the freedom to choose. While we have a responsibility to others, the saying goes, we do not have responsibility for others.
At least not in most contexts, I’m not talking about the caring for the ill or the raising of children or taking on the responsibility of others who have difficulty meeting their own basic survival needs. I’m talking about feeling responsible let’s say for someone else’s poor choices or for someone else’s feelings. The choices that other people make are not our fault.
It also flows the other way, we cannot blame others for the decisions we make claiming a kind of “well if they hadn’t done that, then I wouldn’t have. . . .” Eric Greitens, the ex-Navy seal in his book Resilience: Hard-won wisdom for living a better life talks about the importance of accepting personal responsibility as part of becoming resilient which involves first the awareness that we have the ability to choose.
He equates the process of making courageous choices with the process of making resilient choices. And come to think of it resilient choices take courage. What might be a resilient choice? A resilient choice could be the choice that while an individual was born of a parent who may be abused substances or was in and out of prison, not to become a statistic and follow in their footsteps.
A resilient or courageous choice might be to leave an abusive spouse. A resilient choice might be to step into one’s authentic identity when doing so pits one against stigma and discrimination and risk of job loss. It takes courage to break the mold, to forge new territory, to go against the grain.
There is a quote that I came across once that a friend had relayed to me. The quote is by Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor says “Do what you feel in your heart to be right- for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't.”
Part of going against the grain is shedding the weight and burden of conventional expectation which for some shames an individual into fitting in. Caught up with conventional expectation is the tie to perfectionism. Within perfectionism is the felt presence of “the other” the person(s) who are there to judge.
Regardless of judgment and in spite of judgment there is a place one can go to that is deep inside, a place of inner peace from which decisions can be made. So the building blocks then as laid out here would be 1) awareness of personal agency, then 2) the ability to act independently or autonomously, 3) to make courageous choices, that 4) may go against the grain, and that 5) shed the idea of perfectionism because resliency is more about belonging to oneself or finding one’s own identity than it is about fitting in with others.
Greitens, E. (2016). Resilience: Hard-won wisdom for living a better life. Boston: Mariner Books / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Abelev, M. S. (2009). Advancing Out of Poverty. Journal of Adolescent Research, 24(1), 114-141. doi:10.1177/0743558408328441
Major, B., Dovidio, J. F., & Link, B. G. (2018). The Oxford handbook of stigma, discrimination, and health. Cary: Oxford University Press.